A two day convention of rural women leaders, which was held on 24th and 25th March,2011, in the east Uttar Pradesh town of Mau, brought together over 400 women leader delegates from 10 districts of eastern UP, to share their bitter and sweet experiences under the umbrella of the “Empowering Rural Women” program.
Under the banner of this program, over 40,000 women from the marginalized and backward communities of this backward area, (of an already backward state), have formed ‘women collectives’ or Nari Sanghs in 253 Gram Panchayats (village councils). They are working ceaselessly towards claiming their entitlements, with special emphasis on right to food and right to work. They are also demanding their rightful place in the political and social arena.
During this unique meet, the women leaders spoke of how they were courageously taking forward their movement for demanding, and also getting their rights through the collective efforts of the members of the Nari Sanghs.
While explaining the reasons which led to the formation of these women’s collectives, Badka Devi, President, Nyay Nari Sangh, from Salahipur, Mangrora, Pratapgarh, said, “The Pradhan (head councillor) of the village was providing neither job cards nor jobs to the women. So, 200 women from our village formed an organization to demand our rights. We also warned the Pradhan that we would force him to quit his post if he was unable to discharge his duties properly.”
Her voice was brimming with the confidence of empowerment when she remarked that now men would have to listen to women.
Talking about her Collective’s achievement in her village, Pushpa Devi, Ambedkar Nari Sangh, Babedi, Sadar, Gazipur said, “We were not getting payments in time under NREGA(National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). So, the women of Nari Sangh picketed the Block Development Office. As a result, the Assistant Development Officer instructed the Panchayat to make payments on time. Now we don’t need to be frightened. We have to frighten others to compel them to work honestly. We will fight under the flag of Nari Sangh.”
Pooja, President of a block level Naari Manch having 5000 women members, spoke of how they had succeeded in advocating for the rights of women and had raised their voice against corruption with the help of Right to Information Act (RTI). They managed to get 100 days of work for women, as stipulated under NREGA. They also checked the public distribution system and the quality of Mid-day meals by creating public pressure and awareness.
Seema Saroj, a Dalit woman from Ajhara village, in Laalganj block of Pratapgarh district, was being subjected to constant nagging and restrictions by her husband and family members, so much so that it was difficult for her to even come out of her house. But defying patriarchal norms she became associated with Nari Sangh to fight against the discrepancies in NREGA.
Under the leadership of Kismati Devi, a Dalit woman from Sallahpur village, in Jalalpur block of Ambedkar Nagar district, a 153-member Nari Sangh is working for women’s rights and entitlements.
These are a few of the success stories of women from different villages of Eastern U.P. who have been victims of various kinds of violence in the past, but have courageously come out of their closets and are now spearheading a silent revolution in society. Years, nay centuries, of deprivation and suppression might have cowered down these women into submission. But their daring acts of moral courage have once again reaffirmed our faith in the indomitable spirit of womanhood.
All of us need to emulate their example to overcome age old prejudices against women and work towards a more just society.
We may be down, but we are definitely not out. Together we can and we will! (CNS)